Expectancy biases in fear and anxiety and their link to biases in attention

Tatjana Aue, Hadas Okon-Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Healthy individuals often exhibit prioritized processing of aversive information, as manifested in enhanced orientation of attention to threatening stimuli compared with neutral items. In contrast to this adaptive behavior, anxious, fearful, and phobic individuals show exaggerated attention biases to threat. In addition, they overestimate the likelihood of encountering their feared stimulus and the severity of the consequences; both are examples of expectancy biases. The co-occurrence of attention and expectancy biases in fear and anxiety raises the question about causal influences. Herein, we summarize findings related to expectancy biases in fear and anxiety, and their association with attention biases. We suggest that evidence calls for more comprehensive research strategies in the investigation of mutual influences between expectancy and attention biases, as well as their combined effects on fear and anxiety. Moreover, both types of bias need to be related to other types of distorted information processing commonly observed in fear and anxiety (e.g., memory and interpretation biases). Finally, we propose new research directions that may be worth considering in developing more effective treatments for anxiety disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Psychology Review
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Anxiety
  • Attention bias
  • Combined bias hypothesis
  • Expectancy bias
  • Fear
  • Phobia
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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